Friday, September 21, 2007

Who's Calling the Game? Part 2; or More Cowboy Poker

I’m not inclined to give any summary of where the House of Bishops or the Anglican Communion is today. I think we’re entirely too inclined to overinterpret individual and preliminary opinions, and to overreact. That said, there have been some quotes today that have gotten my attention.

First, from the address to the House of Bishops of the Rt. Rev. Mouneer Anis, Bishop of Egypt and Presiding Bishop of the Anglican Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East (with thanks to BabyBlue):

“With respect, I have to say that those who would prefer to speak of laws and procedures, constitutions and canons, committees and process: you are missing the point! It is our mutual loyalty and fellowship, submitting to one another in the common cause of Jesus Christ that makes us of one Church on faith and one Lord.”

But, then, what of those who would make laws of Lambeth Resolutions; or procedures of the Windsor Report; or canons of Primates’ Communiques? We are wary of “submission,” having found our distinction from the Church of England in a political rejection of “submission;” but isn’t the same true of almost every Province in the Anglican Communion? And how shall we respond when we are asked specifically to submit to cultural norms outside our province when we have not asked any to submit to the cultural norms of ours?

Sitting around the table requires humility from all of us. One church cannot say to the rest of the churches "I know the whole truth, you don't". Sitting around one table requires that each one should have a clear stance before the discussion starts. It also requires true openness and willingness to accept the mind of the whole.

Sitting around the table does indeed require humility; and so the Episcopal Church has been at pains to distinguish accepting us and participating with us in the Communion from emulating us. Sitting around the Lord’s Table need not require a clear stance; for who of us truly understands the mystery of the Lord’s presence among us, incarnate as a man or in the elements of bread and wine? Rather, what it requires is a willingness to share, trusting that it is the Lord, and not us, who makes things right, It might even require willingness to accept the mind of the whole; but no mind of the whole has been reached on these issues, in the Episcopal Church, much less in the whole Communion.

And sitting around the table requires time. A thorough process of open and respectful listening can’t be rushed. Full sharing among all provinces, and among all orders of ministry, resulting in some “mind of the whole.” and received through the constitutional processes of the various provinces of the Communion can’t be accomplished in one year, or two, or even three. We are deceived these days by how rapidly we can communicate text into imagining that meaningful consensus can be achieved in one news cycle or perhaps two. We must not fall prey to cries of haste and urgency from those who fear any “mind of the whole” other than what they already project.

From General Convention Resolution 1991-B020:

Resolved. That the Office of the Presiding Bishop now be directed to propose to all provinces of the Anglican Communion and all churches with whom we are in ecumenical dialogue that a broad process of consultation be initiated on an official pan-Anglican and ecumenical level as a bold step forward in the consideration of these potentially divisive issues which should not be resolved by the Episcopal Church on its own.

Perhaps it seems anachronistic to include this in quotes of the day. However, this resolution was cited in two resolutions proposed for consideration by the House of Bishops at this meeting: one by Bishop Jenkins of Louisiana, with an accompanying letter with his and seven other bishops’ signatures; and another remarkably similar resolution from four bishops. (Bishop Geralyn Wolf was the one person apparently involved in both resolutions.)

If we have been committed to consultation on “an official and pan-Anglican and ecumenical level” since 1991, what happened? If Lambeth Resolution 1998- 1.10 called for listening, and the Windsor Report called for a listening process, what happened? I wonder if we’ve been trying to consult for years, only to be met with disinterest by those who assumed (or hoped) it would never really come up.

Excerpts from a phone interview with Archbishop Peter Akinola by Ruth Gledhill:

[Archbishop Akinola] said he had received an unofficial response to his and his bishops' request that the Archbishop of Canterbury postpone the Lambeth Conference. 'He has not written officially. But all the indications are that Rowan Williams has firmly anchored his hope in the Lambeth Conference. He seems to believe firmly that the Lambeth Conference is the solution.

'We believe very differently. We have told him quite clearly that there is no point in coming together in a climate of fear and distrust when bishops cannot be in communion with each other. We felt we should first have healing and then rejoice together at Lambeth. Apparently, he thinks differently. We have done quite a lot to save the communion. But if it does not want us, we will stay away. We do not believe it is appropriate for us to come together with other bishops when we are in broken communion.'

He said the 'revisionists' [his word, not mine!] would all meet at Lambeth. 'There are many people in the UK and from America who are of the same mind as us. They will then be forced to think what to do. We keep on praying that Dr Rowan, who we love very much and keep on praying for every day for God's guidance and God's wisdom, we still believe that somehow he will resume with us and do what we ask him. Should he refuse to the end, we might have to call our meeting.'

What meeting would this be? It would be the successor to the first, second and third 'Trumpets' of the Global South, the last in Egypt in 2005. Dr Akinola said: 'We might just call a meeting to blow the Fourth Trumpet about the future of the Anglican Communion.' Would this be in 2008, in July, by any chance? He could not confirm this. He will be consulting with colleagues.

So, Archbishop Akinola will have a meeting to suit his ecclesiological temper; and if it won’t be at Lambeth it will be at a place chosen by him and those who agree with him. It would certainly not include the Episcopal Church, at least not without significant changes in tenor of the House of Bishops and the Executive Council (although I suspect Archbishop Akinola simply disdains the latter). It would probably not include the Anglican Church of Canada, or the Episcopal Church of Scotland, or the Province of Wales, and perhaps others. And what of the Church of England?

And the final word is from the Archbishop of Canterbury:

From his prepared statement as he ended his visit with the House of Bishops:

Despite what has been claimed there is no “ultimatum” involved. The Primates asked for a response by 30 September simply because we were aware that this was the meeting of the House likely to be formulating such a response. The ACC and Primates Joint Standing Committee will be reading and digesting what the Bishops have to say, and shall let me know their thoughts on it early next week. After this I shall be sharing what they say, along with my own assessments, with the Primates and others, inviting their advice in the next couple of weeks. I hope these days will result in a constructive and fresh way forward for all of us.

From the question and answer period:

[David] Virtue: You have been asked to postpone the Lambeth Conference, in particular by the Archbishop of Nigeria. What do you say to this suggestion?

ABC: It is not only from their quarter, others have asked the same. I am not persuaded. I am not sure that we could ever define what an adequate “cooling off period” could look like. I do not want the next years spent in anxiety about when and whether Lambeth will occur.

New York Times: Archbishop. The address that +Anis gave the HOB today states in clear terms what some primates expect. I wanted to ask how reflective that message is of what came out of DES. Do you sense any room for compromise on the Communion side?

ABC: The primates said the DES is the place to start. Some would give a more robust interpretation some less. That is the nature of a communiqué with common language. It has been represented sadly as a set of demands and deadlines. It was not that way. We are inevitably in a position of compromise. It would be a mistake to see DES as questions that must be answered without room for maneuver.

So, the Communique from Dar es Salaam did not include an ultimatum, despite the “more robust” interpretation of some (on both sides, whether from eagerness or fear), nor a “set of demands.” Rather, they were, as he at least has said all along, steps on the process of listening and discernment.

And Lambeth is the same. It is a part of the process, a time for all to come together, rather than the arena for accomplishing, or celebrating, the “resolution” that Archbishop Akinola longs for.

I have elsewhere described Archbishop Williams’ actions in the past few years as “cowboy poker.” He agrees, as do all of us, with Bishop Anis that this is about “sitting together at the table.” He appreciates, however, and more than many, that it is his table. (And let’s not get distracted about statements about “the Lord’s Table.” The Lord’s Table is not limited to the Anglican Communion, but is also in Rome and Constantinople and Alexandria and Armenia – and Geneva, too, for that matter. We are talking now about internal Anglican matters.) It is Canterbury’s table, and it is his presence that establishes it. He is determined not to leave the table, whatever betide; and he’s waiting to see who has the patience and determination to stay at the table with him, difficulties and differences and all. His game is to see how long folks will stay with him at the table, even if the discussion is long, and long unclear; and those will lose who lose patience and walk away.

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